Paris to Ancaster 70k – 2022 Edition

Rebecca and I at the start line.

Welcome back P2A

After a 2-year (Covid-19) hiatus, the Paris to Ancaster Bike Race was back! For the first time I would be racing P2A with my adventure racing partner Rebecca, and my Bruce Trail running buddy Kris. We opted for the 70k race, my third time at this distance (Rebecca’s first, and Kris’ first time doing a bike race). There were also 20k, 45k, and 100k options this year (the 100k was new).

Pre-race

Rebecca and I paid for the pre-race shuttle. We parked one car at Ancaster High School across the road from the finish line at the Ancaster Community Centre, and then drove with our bikes 3k over to Walmart, where we put them on a truck and ourselves on a bus. While waiting for the bus to leave, we noticed a bike on the road ahead – a slight mishap with the driver having attempted to drive under a steel barrier with their bike on the roof of the car… the bus driver said it was the second bike she had seen on the ground. Hopefully they were still able to race!

Our driver let us out right at the start line at Waynco Aggregates in North Dumfries Township, where we waited for our bikes to come out of the back of the truck.

We were surprised to see only 3 portapotties for hundreds of riders… but we later learned there were additional ones in the parking lot (where our bus driver was supposed to let us out).

The weather forecast for race day was an incredible 20+ degrees Celsius, unseasonably warm (and dry!) for this race. I wasn’t alone wearing shorts, and many people were in short sleeves.

Kris eventually arrived at the start, and after watching the elite race begin (slightly delayed for some reason), we headed to the back of wave 4, the last wave.

Kris and I at the start line.

It was there that I spotted Erik, who I had met at the race in 2018 through a mutual friend, and who I saw again at the 2019 race.

With Kris, Erik and Rebecca just before the start.

The Race

As usual, I knew we were going to encounter paved roads, gravel roads, rail trails, farm lanes and fields, single track, and lots of mud. New this year was being overtaken by the 100k riders… and the chaos that ensued!

The race started and it wasn’t too long before the couple hundred riders in our wave spread out. Kris and I rode mountain bikes, and Rebecca a gravel bike. Before we had reached 14k, we saw a sign that said 44k to go. We were confused, because we were supposed to be riding 70k. The three of us rode together for a while, but after one section where we ended up in a very long line of people walking their bikes, Kris left us behind (we had told her that she didn’t have to stick with us). In this stretch there was a huge downed tree on the single track, but other than that it’s not clear why we were all walking. There was mud, but it shouldn’t have caused such a back-up. I ended up chatting with the people around me while we walked, and stood still, including another triathlete. For the first 15-16k (before we hit this section) we had been making good time!

This year’s route. Red = faster. Blue = slower. DO NOT RIDE THE COURSE EXCEPT ON RACE DAY (some parts are private property).

After this section, we never saw Kris again! She was doing an amazing job riding through the mud. I was more tentative this year than in the past, because I’m still healing from my Superman dive while skating this winter, and really didn’t want to fall.

We reached the aid station in Harrisburg at around 20k, which confused me further, because it was supposed to be at the 35k mark. We realized that for whatever reason, our race must have been shortened (this can happen due to poor conditions on course – for example, a section through private land that could be damaged if a thousand bikes ride through). We didn’t mind the shortened course, though I would have liked to know before the race started (no announcement was made). I found Erik here too, just like in 2019.

When a dozen or more 100k riders caught us, we were riding through a farm, on a series of hills that had mud pits at the bottom. They passed us at a high rate of speed, on the left, and on the right, weaving in and out of riders. It was pretty crazy. And it was incredible to see the speed and confidence with which they hit the mud pits! They just blasted straight though them. In this section I was trying to squeeze around the left side of Rebecca, but I clipped her with my bike and over I went! I fell onto my left (injured!) side, but was no worse for wear. Thankfully it was a soft landing. Rebecca’s shoe had a minor malfunction at this point but once she forced it back together we were on our way again!

Once we hit the Hamilton to Brantford rail trail around the 40k mark I was in familiar territory, having included this section in many of my training rides. Unfortunately I suffered some abdominal pains for the last 20k of the race – not GI, not a side stitch – which made my pace slow. I’ve had them before, on both my road and mountain bikes, and only ever on long rides. I haven’t figured out what causes them!

At the end of the Mineral Springs mud chute (through which I mostly pushed my bike, though I did ride a bit at the start of the mud) my dad, husband, and daughter were waiting for me! Alasdair had brought tools with him to help people clean mud and debris from their bikes. It was here that I caught up to Rebecca, who had gotten a short distance ahead of me.

Emerging from the Mineral Springs mud chute [picture by my dad].

Less than 2k later, I reached the Powerline mud chute, which I once again mostly pushed my bike through. Thankfully both mud chutes were downhill!

And then before I knew it, I was at the start of Martin Road, which ends with the 20% grade hill and then a short straightaway to the finish line. The hill was more congested for me this year than it was previously, so I was worried that someone would stop right in front of me and I too would have to stop. But I got lucky, and managed to power my way to the top! This section had great spectators on both sides of the road cheering for the riders, which helped push me up it. And then just like that, after 56.8k of riding, pushing and lifting my bike, I was at the finish line and Steve Fleck was announcing my name!

I found Kris, then Erik and finally Rebecca. After a veggie chili (thank you for the vegetarian option!), Rebecca and I drove back to Walmart to pick up her car, and I headed to Booster Juice for a drink – I was craving juice, and the only drinks at the finish were beer (which I grabbed for my dad), and water.

Thanks P2A for another great race!

Race stats:

  • Time: 3:33:21 (15.9 km/h)
  • Women 40-49: 30/31
  • Women: 125/135
  • All riders: 1145/1218

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Race report: Paris to Ancaster 70k (2019)

This was to be my 2nd time riding the Paris to Ancaster 70k race (2018 edition here), in weather that a few days beforehand promised a little bit of everything, from rain and snow to wind. But on race day the clouds cleared and the forecast was a high of 11C with not a lot of wind. Perfect for a spring bike race!

After parking my vehicle at Ancaster High School, I made a last minute decision to ditch my thicker gloves, then rode my bike across the street to the Morgan Firestone Arena, where I handed it over to volunteers loading bikes onto trucks for transportation to the start line. I walked away from the truck and immediately realized that I probably shouldn’t have left my race nutrition in the crossbar pouch, because it has a habit of opening up and emptying… but I optimistically decided that I would be fine, because even if I lost that food, I had more in my hand to eat before the race, and there would be food on course.

I found a seat on the school bus around 7:30 AM, then felt a tap on my shoulder – it was Erik, who I met last year at the Steaming Nostril 65k. He invited me to sit with him, which meant that I had someone to pass the time with before our 10:30 AM race start!

It was a little chilly at Green Lane Sports Complex in Paris while we passed the time, but once the clouds lifted, it warmed up a bit! I was dressed to ride, not stand around. I was relieved to find that my race nutrition stayed put during the drive to Paris.

We made a new friend – Kevin – who was riding the 70k for the first time (years ago he did the race when it was 60k).

Finally, it was time to head to the start line!

We were in the 4th and final wave, also affectionately known as the party wave. When the gun sounded, we took off! The actual race route varies slightly each year depending on weather, land permissions, and the condition of the roads, and the 70k distance is approximate!

What follows is a general description of my race, including the type of terrain ridden and very approximate distances (looking at my Garmin map data, which marks every 5k of distance). Some of the race course is on private land, so please do not ride this course without knowing which parts are which!

KM 0-10 – Green Lane Sports Complex to the Cambridge to Paris Trail

I’m not used to riding in packs, so I was careful at the beginning not to get caught up in tight traffic. There was a crash off to the left just 100-200m into the race, with several riders going down. Hopefully they were uninjured and able to continue!

A short ride on gravel roads led to the double track Cambridge to Paris Trail, which runs along the Grand River. Because it is so early in the race, it can be quite congested with lots of passing going on. I found that people were pretty good about signalling their intent to pass (with hand gestures or verbal cues), and even polite about letting others pass. I rode on the right hand side of the path, road or trail for the entire race except when I was passing. I found it quite frustrating at times when people rode on the left or side by side preventing passing. In any case, this was a pretty part of the course.

First farm lane after the first trail. [Photo by Apex Photography]

KM 10-24 – Road, with a short farm lane section (I think)

Leaving the trail was the first time I saw people getting off their bikes and walking. I rode up the loose gravel hill and continued along a farm laneway.

Around 15k I had an Endurance Tap gel.

KM 24-25 – Muddy farm

At this point we turned off the road into a farm, and through a farmer’s field. “You’re going to like this!” is what I heard. This was the first real section of mud, and my strategy was to follow the rider in front of me – she seemed to be handling the mud just fine, so I figured if she could do it, I could too. And then she unclipped and starting walking, but I continued. I got pretty hot in this section, thinking I was overdressed!

KM 25-27 – Road

I can’t remember anything remarkable about this section.

Whee! There I go! [Photo by Apex Photography]

KM 27-29 – Muddy lane

As soon as I turned onto this muddy lane I remembered it from last year, and was determined to ride straight through the inevitable mud again this year! Many people were walking, but I put my bike into the granny gear and pedalled as hard as I could. Slow down too much and I knew I would lose traction and topple over! I had a death grip on my handlebars, and I kept yelling again, “Coming through!” so those walking didn’t block me by stepping in front of me. A woman behind me started cheering for me, saying “spin! spin!” and “go! go! go!” and I don’t remember what else. At one point I asked her if I should spin as fast as possible and she said “yes!” and “as straight as possible!” It was exhausting pushing hard through that mud, but super rewarding to make it all the way through! Once we got onto the road I thanked her for cheering me on and she said that she was cheering as much for herself as for me!

KM 29-32 – Road to Harrisburg aid station

I pulled into the Harrisburg aid station after 1 hour 30 minutes, which was 10 minutes faster than last year. I quickly used a portapotty, topped up my water bottle, ran into Erik (who beat me there), ate a cookie and a banana, and got back on my bike.

KM 32 – 35 – A rail trail (including alternate route)

Erik reminded me that shortly after leaving the aid station, we would hit a backlog of riders on a rail trail type path, because the course leaves the trail and heads down a steep hill to the road. As I got close to this spot, sure enough, people were bunched up and walking. Another rider that I know from adventure racing (Anne) came up behind me and was clearly wanting to ride it (“I have a mountain bike” she said.). Then I saw a sign that said ALTERNATE ROUTE, and something about having to ride down the steep hill or walk down the hill on the other side of the bridge (I don’t think the sign actually said all that!). Anne went for the steep, muddy, curvy downhill ride and so did I! We got ahead of quite a few (walking) riders by doing that. I had to unclip at the very bottom when I reached a couple of huge boulders, but then I was on my way again!

KM 35 – 40 – Road

It was in this road section that another rider pointed out to me that my key was falling out of my back pocket! What a disaster that would have been! So thankful that he noticed it and told me!

Entire P2A 70k route.

KM 40 – 41 – Muddy lane

I found this next muddy lane more rideable this year, but I nearly took another rider down when a rut in the thick gooey mud swung me right and nearly into the path of another rider. I yelled “sorry! sorry! sorry!” but he was thankfully able to avoid me and we both stayed upright. PHEW! I also had to unclip quickly at one point when a rider fell right in front of me – I thought I too was going down!

KM 41 – 56 – Road (with a 1k section of rail trail)

The next section was quite boring, but I was still feeling good! I think it was in this section that I discovered I had lost two gels from my crossbar pouch. I had another one.

KM 56 – 64 – Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail

Once I turned onto the rail trail, I felt like I was in home territory. The majority of my pre-race training rides included this part of the rail trail.

At 58k I reached another aid station (on the trail), which I considered riding straight past but decided to stop for. I ate a cookie and some super yummy oranges slices, then headed out once again. I felt like I got a 2nd wind and felt strong heading into the last part of the race.

KM 64 – 65 – Road

Once I left the rail trail, there was a short road section until we reached Highway 52, where I had to wait with other riders for a couple of minutes (less than 5) before the police stopped the traffic for us. This was the only time during the race where I had to wait for traffic. At this point I heard someone say that there were 1.6 km to go, which I knew was wrong, so I told him and others that based on what the people at the last aid station said, we had about 8k to go!

KM 65 – 66 – Mineral Springs Mud Chute

I don’t think it’s quite possible to understand the two mud chutes in this race until you try to ride them. I’m sure the riders at the very front of the pack can make their way through them, but by the time 2,500 or more riders go through before me, they are quite unrideable! The vast majority of people around me walked down the mud chute, though some – like me – made a valiant attempt at the start. I managed to go for a short ways before I fell over onto my left side. And then I walked. Many people carried their bikes to keep them out of the worst of the mud, but my bike is far too heavy to do that. So I tried to keep it as far to the side of the mud chute as I could.

Through the Mineral Springs mud chute. [Photo by my dad]

I knew that my parents would be waiting for me at the bottom, and sure enough, they were! However, I came through so much earlier than expected that they nearly missed me.

There was no lineup at the power wash station, so a volunteer did a quick clean of my bike and I was on my way again.

Quick power wash! [Photo by my dad]
Thought this was going to be Gatorade. Nope. Water! [Photo by my dad]

KM 66 – 67.5 – Road and jujube

On Powerline Road there were a few volunteers handing out jujubes, so I grabbed a couple and in trying to chew the first one cracked my jaw something fierce!

KM 67.5 – 68 – Powerline Road Mud Chute

And then it was time for the second of the mud chutes. This one I didn’t even attempt to ride. What a mess! Thick, goopy mud!

KM 68 – 70 – Trail and Mineral Springs Road

I cleaned some mud and debris off my bike, and as soon as I could, I got back on my bike and started to ride. I think this section was a little different this year, because I don’t remember riding Mineral Springs Road around the hairpin turns last year. I may be wrong!

KM 70 – 71.7 – Martin Road and the Martin Road hill

And then, I reached Martin Road, which would take me to the finish line. I was determined to make it up the steepest part of the hill just before the finish, but I did unclip near the beginning to avoid wiping out in a big puddle, and then again when going up a very steep short section – people were walking and I was afraid I wouldn’t have the speed or traction to get up it.

I hit the Martin Road hill, and while almost everyone around me was walking, there was one woman riding ahead of me, so I focussed on making it to the top without colliding with her!

Tackling the Martin Road hill! [Photo by Apex Photography]

We got lots of cheers (she had her own cheering section), and amazingly, I didn’t find it as hard as I expected (reaching it after more than 71k of cycling!), and when I hit that finish line, I felt like I could have kept going. Woot!

I finished the race a whopping 42 minutes faster than last year. Yes, I rode 73k last year versus 71.7 km this year, but I was still way faster!!

I’m really happy with how my race went!

After putting my super muddy bike back into my vehicle, I stood in the longest line ever for post-race food, but it moved surprisingly quickly! I took the food to my parents’ place, and after refueling, I soaked in their hot tub. Lucky me!

What a race!

Race stats:

  • Time: 3:54:20 (18.3 km/h)
  • Women 40-49: 22/36
  • Women: 108/150
  • All riders: 1299/1561

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Race report: My very 1st Paris to Ancaster 70k bike race (25th edition – 2018)

Having cheered on riders of the Paris to Ancaster 70k bike race many times in the past, I was well aware of the potential variability of late April race day weather – from sunny skies to rain, snow, wind and mud – and lots of it. But I never quite appreciated the mud chute at Mineral Springs Road in Ancaster – my usual spot for watching – until I did the race myself!

After winning my mountain bike last summer, I bit the bullet and signed up for the 25th anniversary of this race. After successfully completing the Steaming Nostril 65k bike race on April 8th, I was confident that I could finish the P2A.

According to the race website, “The 70km course consists of 24km of gravel and dirt roads, 5km of farm lanes, 19km of rail trail, 14km of single track (1-3km sections) and 8km of paved road.”

I paid $20 for the bus shuttle, so that I could get a bus to the start line (with my bike going by truck) and have my car waiting for me at the finish. On race morning I looked at the weather forecast (below zero at the start), and added layers to my original clothing plan. I scrapped the idea of wearing shorts and went with long pants. I also added a headband and my jacket, which I had hoped to do without.

With more than 2 hours to kill at Green Lane Sports Park in Paris before wave 4 was to start at 10:30 AM, I chatted with other riders, and made multiple trips to the portapotties. As the start time neared, I realized that I was overdressed.

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At the start line of the 25th anniversary edition of the P2A – wave 4.

With the bang of multiple guns shot by people in period costumes, the race began! When the announcer (Steve Fleck) became inaudible after the gunshot, people joked that the speakers had been shot.

After the first few of the 600 riders in our wave began (the biggest P2A wave ever), other riders had the inflatable starting arch fall onto them as they rode under it. It was quickly righted and I didn’t hear about any injuries (just one damaged bike – hopefully a minor issue and they were able to race!). After a short section of gravel road, the route followed the Grand River along the Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail.

From there, we rode a combination of gravel and paved roads, off-road sections including dry rail trail, wet and muddy trail, gravel farm laneway, single track dirt trails (some incredibly muddy), and wider dirt trails with varying degrees of mud. Overall, it was a less hilly route than I expected. Since I don’t have an odometer on my bike, I had no idea how far I had gone. My phone was tracking my progress, but it wasn’t accessible. I asked a few riders during the race, but I also knew that the aid station at the 35k mark would be the one sure sign of my progress.

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One of the few kilometres of paved road. [Photo credit: Apex Photography]

There were several sections of the course that were memorable!

Ditch and then 1st real mountain biking off road section (at 15k)

Just after the 15k mark, I was riding along the edge of a road when I encountered congestion as everyone got off their bikes and walked. It was soon clear why. I needed to take 5-10 steps down into a ditch, and then up the other side. With wooden skids at the bottom and tons of mud, it was completely unrideable.

Then after getting on my way again, I entered the first real mountain biking off road section, a single track bit through the woods. I loved this section, but this is where I totally understood a conversation I had overheard before the race about “avoiding other riders”. In this section, which was a little less than a kilometre, I likely would have been able to ride through it completely (or nearly!) had there not been people all around me. Partly I was very conscious of not wanting to get in people’s way, and partly I didn’t want to end up falling. At times I had to unclip and walk, because it was very muddy and other riders would stop dead in front of me when their bikes got stuck. Granted I did the same thing at times. In any case, this was a fun section of curvy trail through the woods.

Muddy trail more like a rail trail (at 29k)

I’m not sure quite how to describe this trail, other than to say it was wide enough for at least 2 riders to travel side by side, but it was dirt, straight, and very very muddy. It presented me with the deepest, thickest mud I have ever biked through before. Many people were walking, but I decided to take full advantage of being clipped into my bike (still very new for me on my MTB!), and to push hard through this section. I was by no means going quickly, but I was pushing as hard as I could to stay upright! At times my tires would get sucked into ruts and I was sure I was going over, but somehow I managed to lean or push harder and continue. I had to announce my presence a few times to make sure the walkers knew I was coming through. I had one guy following right behind me, and when we emerged from the mud (which had to be close to reaching my pedals!) he said to me, “Nicely ridden!” That felt awesome.

Harrisburg aid station (35k)

I hit the Harrisburg aid station sooner than expected (1 hr 40 minutes on my watch). My legs were feeling good, my energy was good, and the race was so far easier than I expected it to be. I texted my husband and parents to give them a heads up that I might be coming through sooner than expected. Ha!

I had a quick pee break, then stopped to add water to my gatorade, but the container was empty and the next one looked like nuun, so I scrapped that plan (I still had lots) and headed off.

Stomach pain (40k)

Yet again, I suffered an unknown stomach pain that comes out of nowhere. It’s rare that I feel it on my rides, and it’s only ever when biking, but it hurts like crazy and makes bumps unbearable. It feels more like a muscle cramp than a GI issue, but it’s frustrating because not knowing what’s causing it makes it hard to prevent it! I sometimes wonder if it’s a posture thing, but I’m affected on both my road bike and MTB bike. I suffered until about the 65k mark, though it eased off gradually so it wasn’t super intense the whole time. It did make me slow down in this section though.

Heading West instead of East at the 403 (47k)

Just before the 47k mark, we started heading West instead of East – this was slightly hard psychologically because it made it feel as though I wasn’t as close to the finish as I thought I was. We crossed under Highway 403 and headed East again.

Crossing Highway 52 (65k)

At all other intersections on the race route, police held up traffic and I just sailed through. But Highway 52 is a busy road, and so I waited for 5-10 minutes to be allowed to cross. There was a group of 20 or so riders by the time we crossed.

Mud chute at Mineral Springs Road (66k)

This section runs from Highway 52 to Slote Road, and while the beginning part is rideable (there are houses and it is driveable), the later part is not. This part of the road is blocked off with big cement blocks, and is overgrown with trees and bushes. I’m sure you could ride this section if you were one of the very first people passing through. But by the time I got there the mud was way too thick to ride. As I pushed my bike along, mostly downhill, it accumulated so much mud and vegetative matter that my front wheel wouldn’t even turn. My bike is not light, so carrying it was not an option, though I did have to keep lifting it slightly to change angles. It was tough slogging!! I heard my husband cheering for riders (walkers?) then saw him, my parents and my daughter. My mom had been waiting patiently for me with a little container of pure maple syrup – but I had no interest in it, despite having given it to her to bring to the race!

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End of the mud chute at Mineral Springs Road. [Photo credit: Neil]

I spotted a lineup of riders waiting for their bikes to be hosed down – yes, during the race! We weren’t at the finish yet. I decided to wait, because I had no idea how I’d be able to ride my bike otherwise. While waiting 10 minutes or so for my turn, I picked out as much of the sticks and mud as I could. My dad said that next year, they will be there wearing gloves prepared to help people clean out their bikes! I’ve seen muddy bikes coming out of that section before, but this was crazy!

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Bike wash at the end of the mud chute at Mineral Springs Road [Photo credit: Ailish]
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Attempting to clip in after the bike wash [Photo credit: Alasdair]

I said goodbye to my family and headed up the Slote Road hill. In my training I’d done all the gravel roads in this area quite a few times, so I knew what to expect until I reached the Powerline Road mud chute.

Powerline Road mud chute

The top part of this hill was rideable, but then… forget it! Another super thick muddy section that I walked down. I attempted to keep my bike out of the mud as much as possible. Didn’t I just get my bike washed 1-2k ago?!

Powerline Mudslide
Mud chute on Powerline. [Photo credit: Apex Photography]
The fall

My only fall in this race was on Martin Road before the final hill, on another very small hill that was super muddy. I fell – in slow motion – into a thick pile of very cushioning mud. As I started pushing my bike up to a more level spot, another rider fell in front of me, with his bike landing on top of him – he was still clipped in. I asked him if he needed any help extricating himself from his bike, which resulted in laughter around me. He was fine.

Martin Road hill to the finish line

I had 2 goals for this race: 1) to finish! and 2) to successfully climb up the Martin Road hill, which is how this race ends. Part of this dirt hill is a 17% grade. I rode the hill in training, after about 30k on area roads, and wondered how I would manage it after riding 70k. In fact, it went better than expected! I knew the hill, and knew that once I did the steepest part, the rest would be easy. I never felt that I was in danger of losing momentum and falling over or having to unclip. And since almost everyone around me was walking, I got great cheers from the crowd, and from one enthusiast spectator in particular – thank you random stranger! It helped get me up the hill!

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Woohoo! I made it all the way up the Martin Road hill (17% grade at one point)! [Photo credit: Apex Photography]

From there it was a very short ride to the finish line (at the 73k mark!), which was rather anticlimactic. I asked a woman to take my picture, then I decided not to get a bike wash given that I had somewhere I had to be later that afternoon, and after getting into the food line-up, I scrapped that idea too because there had to be 100 people in front of me. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that they were handing out P2A medals inside, and I missed out. I’ve never been in a race where you had to go elsewhere for a medal.

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Done! [Photo credit: random stranger]

I really enjoyed this race, except for the part when my stomach was hurting. Thankfully, the wind wasn’t too bad, and I wasn’t too warm despite being overdressed. Despite thinking at the half way point that I might possibly finish under 4 hours, this was most definitely not the case. Next year! Because yes, I’ll be back!

Thank you P2A for a great race, and to the landowners who allowed us to tear through their properties – I thanked every person I saw who looked like they might own the land I was riding on, including the farmer on his front porch!

Results

  • Distance: 73k
  • Time: 4:36:37 (15.8 km/h)
  • Placing women 40-49: 35/45
  • Placing all women: 129/150
  • Placing all riders: 1482/1623
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The state of my bike after the race.

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